If anyone ever tells you a major league skipper does little to affect the outcome of a baseball game, refer them to the Detroit Tigers sweep of Boston this weekend.
Jim Leyland completely out-managed Terry Francona (a guy I like), leading his team victorious over the Red Sox three straight times in a battle of two of the best clubs in baseball.
Leyland managed his bullpen to perfection, especially in the latter innings of Saturday’s 3-2, 13-inning Tiger triumph. He never pitched to David Ortiz (five walks in two games, including three of the intentional variety Saturday, challenged Manny Ramirez (1-for-9 with a double and what seemed like a million double plays), and utilized the hit-and-run to perfection.
Well-respected and admired throughout baseball, Leyland showed exactly why he’s one of baseball’s greats this weekend. He led the Tigers to the World Series last year before losing to the upstart St. Louis Cardinals and for that will manage the American League All-Stars this Tuesday.
This weekend, he did a damn good job managing a team currently playing like a bunch of All-Stars. The Tigers are hitting the cover off the ball. There isn’t even enough from for all their bats in the lineup. Marcus Thames (10 homers) and Craig Monroe (nine) actually platoon in left field. Leyland mixed in Thames – who is becoming quite the Sox killer – well this weekend, starting the outfielder in left field, right field and first base and watching him deliver with home runs No. 9 and 10.
Leyland brought in Todd Jones early in Saturday’s contest, when the score was 2-2 in the ninth. Jones pitched two effective innings before yielding to Macay McBride. The lefthander got two outs before surrendering a Jason Varitek single. Leyland had seen enough and when Francona brought in Jeff Bailey to hit for Eric Hinske, Leyland countered with righthander Zach Miner
Miner induced a fielder’s choice grounder from Bailey, ending any potential trouble.
When Miner loaded the bases with two outs in the 12th on back-to-back walks to Ortiz (intentional) and Ramirez, Leyland called for lefty Bobby Seay. Francona replaced another lefty, J.D. Drew, with Kevin Youkilis. Seay retired Youkilis on a harmless flyout to right.
You could argue that this is just one of those cases where the players make the manager look good, but you’ve gotta face the facts: Leyland put those players in the proper positions to succeed.
He’s also gotten the most of his players. Magglio Ordonez is hitting like Yaz – with stats in contention with A-Rod for the Triple Crown. Gary Sheffield looks like he’s 28-yeard-old. Jones – the closer who everybody loves to hate – has held on to his closing job despite cries for Fernando Rodney and, when he was healthy, Joel Zumaya.
Leyland obviously sees something in the veteran. He must like what he brings to the table in the ninth. And just like last year when the critics and pundits concluded that Jones would lose his job by midseason, Leyland’s man as once again proved them wrong, notching 22 saves at the break.
There’s still a lot of baseball to play as we reach the non-official halfway point of the season. But if I had to vote for Manger of the Year right now, Jimmy Leyland gets the nod.